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Seven Tips for Establishing the Boundary Between Boss and Buddy

Graphic Showing Employee Holding a Cup of Coffee while Boss is Telling SomethingIt's a common refrain, especially for those who are new to management and those who have risen through the ranks and already have established friendships with those they will now supervise.

What is the appropriate boundary between being a boss and being a buddy? Use these seven tips to keep yourself on the right track.

#1- Compartmentalizing seldom works

It sounds good. For some people maybe it actually works. But this strategy usually backfires because it's just not realistic to compartmentalize when it comes to relationships. If you are tempted to say I'm your boss at work and your buddy after hours, you are attempting to compartmentalize. The problem is, this is hard to do when the going gets tough.

Even if you are extremely disciplined about keeping the work hours and non-work our relationship separate, others may not be as adept as you are. That's why they will feel betrayed when you have to act as the boss but they were expecting the friend response.

When you become the boss, things will be different and you must be willing to establish your role regardless of the setting. The fact that you are the boss doesn't change at the end of the workday.

#2-  Give your team time without you

Remember that when the boss is there, the dynamic changes. If you are always there, and the team has no opportunity to engage with each other, they are missing out on relationships that are healthy in any workplace.

Check yourself to be sure you aren't trying too hard to stay in control of every relationship. Back off and give space to your direct reports so they can form connections without you in the way. Give them a chance to talk about you – just the way you want to talk about your boss with your peers.

#3- Find ways to support the team without being in front of them

You don't have to be present to show your largess and team support. When the members of the team go out to dinner without you, pick up the tab via phone. Or give them tickets to go someplace you will not be going. You can be a buddy in the background.

#4- Understand the complexity and impact of blurred lines

If you are simultaneously trying to be the boss and the buddy during work hours, you are setting yourself up to fail. The inconsistency and unpredictability of your role jeopardizes relationships more than it enhances them. It's confusing and demotivating when it appears that you've given buddy status to a select few or when you've revoked buddy status and gone back to being the boss.

#5- You owe it to everyone to remain objective

When you put yourself in the role of buddy, you lose objectivity. Others will see this and question your capacity as a leader. Your opinion about your direct reports matters to the organization as a whole. As you write performance reviews or are engaged in conversations about hiring, firing and promoting others, your lack of objectivity (or even the perception that you've lost objectivity) can seriously derail your career. Be careful!

#6- Examine your motivation

Why do you want to be a buddy to your direct reports? Are you hoping to win a popularity contest as manager? If so, prepare to be disappointed. Managers can be respected and well liked, but they are in that respect by being fair-minded and objectives. Being everyone's buddy causes disrespect and the fleeting feelings of popularity are a short-term trade-off you don't want to make.

#7- Consider how your actions impact your team

You can do some socializing with members of your team. Moderation is the key. You want to set appropriate expectations and maintain a decorum that clearly indicates you know your own role. When you act in ways that attempt to mask your role, you're not fooling anyone. You are causing confusion and it's not fair to your team to do this.

It's okay to be the boss. You can maintain mutual respect and support by not going overboard as the buddy.

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CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThis blog post is part of the CONNECT! Community's July focus on connecting in the workplace. As a leader, connecting horizontally, vertically and diagonally throughout your organization will help you to be more effective and CONNECT2Lead. Subscribe to our weekly CONNECT2Lead Newsletter for special offers, content, and blog To God be the glory!
Editor's note: this blog was  originally published July 2014 and has been recently updated.